May 21st, 2010
03:22 PM ET
5 years ago

Director of national intelligence has little real authority

(CNN) – President Obama soon will nominate a new director of national intelligence, a position originally envisioned as overseer of the entire U.S. intelligence community.

Dennis Blair, a retired Navy admiral, resigned as Obama's intelligence director Thursday.

In the days before his resignation, Blair had responded to a Senate committee report's criticism by saying that "institutional and technological barriers remain that prevent seamless sharing of information" among the 16 agencies he oversaw.

And that's the problem, a former White House homeland security adviser said Friday.

Fran Townsend, a CNN contributor who was a homeland security adviser during the Bush administration, said the director's position lacks the authority to match its responsibilities.

"They either have to fix it or do away with it, but one way or another, what we don't need it to be is just an added layer of bureaucracy that impedes progress, especially when we have such serious threats out there," Townsend said on CNN's "American Morning."

Congress created the position in 2004 as part of an intelligence overhaul recommended by the 9/11 Commission.

John Negroponte, ambassador to Iraq, became the first director in April 2005 and held the position until February 2007, when he became deputy secretary of state.

J. Mike McConnell, a retired Navy vice admiral, succeeded Negroponte and served until a week after President Obama's inauguration, when Blair took over.

According its website, "the Office of the DNI's goal is to effectively integrate foreign, military and domestic intelligence in defense of the homeland and of United States interests abroad."

However, the legislation that created the post did not invest it with authority to direct the budgets of any of the 16 intelligence agencies or tell them what to do.

Before the director position was created, the director of central intelligence called most of the shots, and CIA directors have continued to wield considerable power, generating tension with the DNI.

"Anytime you have organizations that have similar interests, you're going to have disputes," McConnell said on his way out the door. "And particularly if the two leaders aren't working together and having a partnership and so on, the warfare at the trench level gets to be pretty much a raging battle."

McConnell said he had a good professional relationship with then-CIA director Mike Hayden, so they made it work. But, he said, "We don't have a department of intelligence. If this were the Department of Defense, there wouldn't be any question, but it isn't."

Blair's resignation is said to be the result of a power struggle with CIA director Leon Panetta. But even Panetta seemed unclear on the intelligence hierarchy during his Senate confirmation hearing in 2009.

Initially, Panetta said he reported to the DNI and performed the tasks assigned to him by the DNI, but then he said: "We are an operational arm, just like the [National Security Agency], just like the [National Reconnaissance Office], and I believe the role of the DNI is to coordinate all our activities."

In fact, the NSA and the NRO are part of the Defense Department and report directly to the defense secretary, not the DNI. The CIA is the only
intelligence agency that is not part of another department.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, asked him directly, "Is the DNI your boss or not?"

"The DNI is my boss," Panetta answered.

– CNN National Security Producer Pam Benson and writer Jim Kavanagh contributed to this report.


Filed under: Dennis Blair
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Hugo

    Dennis Blair, a retired Navy admiral, resigned as Obama's intelligence director Thursday.
    __________________________________

    Why would the most intelligent of God like beings require a director of intelligence in the first place?

    This Administration has been an exercise in futility, a bumbling fiasco of misguided liberal novices making one mistake after another in an attempt at leadership. There is no denying it now that it has been One Big A$$ Mistake America, I know I will remember the historical Obama Presidency as the period in my life for which I was UNEMPLOYED (so far for two of four), spent most of my life savings, lost my dreams for retirement, felt entirely hopeless with regard to a future and watched our Nation crumble into a third world status. Wait I know, it was all GW's fault that did it.....they are identical!

    May 21, 2010 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  2. Tulsa

    Once again a position created by the REPUBLICAN Congress in 2004 with no power and more, bigger government.

    And these guys claim to want LESS government? How blind do they think we are?

    The REPUBLICAN Congress and the BUSH administration grew the government more than anyone.... even Reagan. (oh, BTW, he (Reagan) TRIPPLED the national debt in his 8 years)
    Oh yeah, those Republicans are just the little fiscal conservatives, aren't they? Liars.

    May 21, 2010 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  3. GI Joe

    Bush appointee – goes to figure.

    May 21, 2010 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  4. Francois Espinoza

    Isn't that cute, when I go down at the bottom of the page, there's a smiling face right. is so small too you can barely see it. Just barely seen that.

    And while you're at it, go f- yourselves and hopefully criminals don't run over the country, after all, Obama knows.

    May 21, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  5. Mark from Louisiana

    Why appoint another person if the office has no power? Eliminate the position and save the taxpayers a few bucks. Nahhhhh that will never happen with obummer he loves wasting our money.

    May 21, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    " I know I will remember the historical Obama Presidency as the period in my life for which I was UNEMPLOYED (so far for two of four), spent most of my life savings, lost my dreams for retirement, felt entirely hopeless with regard to a future and watched our Nation crumble into a third world status. "

    Aaaah, but will you place the blame where it belongs? Methinks not.

    May 21, 2010 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  7. Tulsa

    Hugo, why don't you just leave? if you are that unhappy with the MAJORITY of Americans voting for PRESIDENT OBAMA.. that's PRESIDENT OBAMA, Then I guess you really aren't that fond of DEMOCRACY. so leave. Or at least give some constructive criticism instead of blaming the president for YOUR FAILURE OF A LIFE.
    After all, aren't you all about taking RESSPONSIBILITY for your own life?

    Or are you just a cry baby?

    May 21, 2010 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  8. Ron in California

    National Intelligence???? Little of tha is coming out of Washington.

    May 21, 2010 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  9. LacrosseMom (the real one)

    TO Hugo:

    IF you are unemployed please do not blame President Obama! There are jobs IF you want them! Maybe not in your field of study or occupation, but how about flipping burgers, picking lettuce, tomatoes, working cleaning toilets! There are "Hiring" signs everywhere! GO TO WORK! And stop blaming President Obama.

    May 21, 2010 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |